Sunday, September 24, 2017

After: thoughts on life

Is there life after death and if so what will it be? In a Woody Allen movie, a Jewish man (played by Allen) converts to Christianity. His mother screams and goes to her room. The father asks why he would want to do that. Allen’s character replies by asking his father, “Aren’t you worried about you know, … after?” The father says, “No, I don’t worry, I will be dead!”
Philosophers and religions discuss death and afterlife extensively. Some religions do not profess any concept of life after death; others such as Christianity have extensive belief systems and writings on subject. I tend to agree with the father in the movie – “I will be dead.” All I can really do anything about is here and now.
Currently I am intrigued by the concept put forth in the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Note: The daemons in his trilogy are an externalized part of the human’s spirit embodied in an animal form. A daemon is capable of shifting species to reflect the emotional state of their human companion until puberty when the daemon’s identity become fixed.
Lyra, the heroine of the trilogy says, “When you go out of here, all the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart, just like your daemons did. If you’ve seen people dying, you know what that looks like. But your daemons aren’t just nothing now; they’re part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they’ve gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They’ll never vanish. They’re just part of everything. And that’s exactly what’ll happen to you, I swear to you, I promise on my honor. You’ll drift apart, it’s true, but you’ll be out in the open, part of everything alive again.” (The Amber Spyglass, page 335)
“Even if it means oblivion… I’ll welcome it, because it won’t be nothing, we’ll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass and a million leaves, we’ll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze, we’ll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world which is our true home and always was.” (The Amber Spyglass, page 336)
“To know that after a spell in the dark we’ll come out again to a sweet land like this, to be free of the sky like the birds, well, that’s the greatest promise anyone could wish for.” (The Amber Spyglass, page 532) 

Many funeral sermons talk of reunion with loved ones or life continuing in some improved version of what we know now. The Scriptures give a mixed message. The letters of Paul give some suggestions. Much of our imagery comes from Revelation with its metaphors of streets of gold and lakes of fire describing what awaits us. Some Christian denominations have a highly developed idea of afterlife and others leave it to the category of mystery. Some branches of Islam tell of living in gardens of pleasure. Most of Judaism does not have an afterlife theology. The most one can read in The Bible is that there will be some sort of ongoing life in God but even that is unclear. As I age and more and more friends die, it is comforting to imagine that I will be in an improved known life but I wonder. I think it more likely to be nothing like anything I know but I trust that it will be in the hands of God if it is anything at all.
What I do care about is life now, making the kingdom of God present in the world. As it says in the Lord’s Prayer, I pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” I care about leaving the world having contributed to making it a better place for all people. I hope that our children and grandchildren and their children will have a place to live on earth, that they will find meaningful lives, and contribute in their time.
Mary Oliver wrote in “When Death Comes” 

…When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
The people I look to are those who have not just visited with their time here on earth. They have delighted in their time here and brought joy as a primary gift to those around them. They have spent their days making space for others.
In the end I hope that death will be as Pullman describes it, “The first ghost to leave the world of the dead was Roger. He took a step forward, and turned to look back at Lyra, and laughed in surprise as he found himself turning into the night, the starlight, the air… and then he was gone, leaving behind such a vivid little burst of happiness that Will was reminded of the bubbles in a glass of champagne.” (The Amber Spyglass, page 382)
Philip Pullman web site — http://www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

UPDATE on my lungs

Earlier on this blog I explained about Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis - a progressive condition of the lungs. In the last couple of weeks I sort of dropped off a cliff. I had been doing pretty well, slow and easily fatigued but had a bad bout of coughing.

A couple of weeks ago I had a CT scan and it shows some progression of the fibrosis. The upshot of it all is that they put me on the oxygen.  I am hoping that will restore some energy -but taking it day to day. I will be getting a portable concentrator to give me a bit more freedom. The little bottles are 2 hours - the concentrator 7-8 on battery. Have a concentrator at home - with a long tube for going all over the house. My version of "golden lasso"
I was on prednisone for 2 weeks and came off cold turkey - have suffered fever and chills and extreme fatigue -but on the mend -nothing infectious shows up. Unlike the lungs -- everything else is in great shape and having the oxygen will help keep everything that way I hope. 

I see a new pulmonologist next week. My old one is retiring. In the meantime I cannot say enough about my provider at Cannon Beach Providence. She has really taken me seriously and is on top of everything -- trying to give me more quality of life.

Happy to answer questions - but prefer no advice -  try not to speculate on what this means. I don't know yet.

October 6 is the funeral for my sister in law who died this week. We sat with her body and told stories- laughed and cried. I did prayers and anointing. Prayers for all the family. She was our family's chief hostess and loved having everyone around. No matter when you showed up she would whip up a meal for you and make you welcome. The last few years she had Alzheimers (or similar condition) these last few years - though she still remembered all of us. An overwhelming infection killed her.

Jim has been amazing -- feel very cared for.  Kristin has been here for a few weeks- very lovely. John our son and Quinn, our grandchild (18 years old now!) come for a visit this week. Great summer seeing all the kids and grands.

Prayers welcome.

Photos: My life this year - before September 1 and after.




Thursday, June 01, 2017

Good Samaritan


One Sunday I was driving to Rock Springs WY from Lander. I was set to preside and preach at 10:30 AM - 2 hours from my home. In those days I was helping Holy Communion Episcopal Church during the time they were without a priest in residence. I would make this trip twice a month and be available for consultation by phone the rest of the time.  They are what I call a "cat church"- happy to take care of their own lives and look after one another, organize study groups, run the thrift shop, have parties, and support each other in personal hard times but not needing much other than affection and communion from me.

As I drive across the continental divide over South Pass, I am wondering about my great grandmother who came to Oregon on a covered wagon as a girl and thinking about our paths were crossing so many years later. Suddenly my right rear tire shredded. No traffic either direction - just the long high plateau road over the Rocky Mountains as I pulled of on the shoulder. So there I am, in a no cell service zone (so no AAA for me), standing in my Sunday best clergy duds by the side of my Outback with its little emergence tire, directions for changing the tire in one hand and tire iron in the other, the tiny jack sitting on the ground. I have not changed a tire since my father made me learn before he would let me drive. At least the persistent wind had died down and it was not snowing.

Struggling to get the jack placed properly to raise the tire off the ground and loosen the lug nuts, a pickup truck passes me - full speed+ - as we go out there in the land of no traffic and straight roads. Suddenly is stops, turns around - and pulls up by me. His wife and I sit in the pickup while he makes short work of changing the tire with his full sized jack and oil rigger muscles. His wife says- "I told him - you have to stop - there is a woman changing her tire and she's in dress!"

Job done- I am on my way to church - I make it just in time to join the procession! I tell them I had met the Good Samaritan and he is an oil rig worker named Tom. My stereotypes about his work and who does it had fallen away. All the images of "hard living, hard drinking, dirty, raid the earth riggers" of my imagination were challenged as he and his wife were neighbor to me.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Ash Wednesday Collection

A collection of poems and other bits for Ash Wednesday:



Adrienne Trevathan - the Director of Christian Education at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Evanston, IL. Native American (Port Gamble S'Klallam) and United Methodist



Changer: A Prayer Poem for Ash Wednesday
A 21st Century Worship Resource
Cover me with ashes,
the thick-smoke soot of the earth.
Make my breathing like the journey
from death into life — second by second,
prayer by prayer.
Cover me with a cloak — bring me low to the earth,
your justice whispering to me like the gleam of red rocks,
the colors dancing in the darkness.
Let me know the power of sage and cedar in my bones,
not that I may trap them there,
but bring them forth in words.
Cover me with darkness —
with the presence of my elders, their tears falling around me,
reminding me of why we are here —
sighing, groaning with our singing, longing to hear us into being,
stretching us beyond breathing and praying and weeping.
Cover me with mercy —
let the bones you have crushed rejoice,
like the woman who channeled every ounce of courage and dignity
to touch your cloak and find new life.
Breathe unto me life anew,
of possibility,
of beauty,
of balance,
of grace.
Cover me with mud —
bring me to my lowest state, so that in my weaknesses
I see your strength —
the reflection of your eyes in the brokenness around me,
the fullness of your love in the depths of our hearts.
Cover me with ashes —
the ashes of my grandmother,
who in living her days knew no strangers,
worked tirelessly with worn hands
and lifted grandchildren high into the air.
Cover me with mercy —
let my cheek come to rest on the cold earth,
its faithful presence a call to walk humbly
beyond myself
beyond my fears
and ever on to the red road that leads to your love.
x̣áýəs — Changer
 Cover me.
Cover me with ashes.
Change me.





Walter Brueggemann 
Marked by Ashes
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day . . .This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
     halfway back to committees and memos,
     halfway back to calls and appointments,
     halfway on to next Sunday,
     halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
     half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
   but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes —
     we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
       of failed hope and broken promises,
       of forgotten children and frightened women,
     we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
     we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
   some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
   anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you —
   you Easter parade of newness.
   Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
     Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
     Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
   Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
     mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.


T.S. Eliot -- whole poem here  or of T.S. Eliot reading the poem here

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

And a video



Sunday, January 01, 2017

The Power of Naming



There has been an ongoing discussion on Facebook about the Prayers of the People and whether or not to pray for the President-elect by name. The Book of Common Prayer does not require names in any rubrics though many churches do use the name of the President and other leaders. Our church prays by name for "Our President, Barack, our Governor, Kate and all local officials." Since the election, we have added President-elect Donald. For at least the last 4 presidents we have called them by name.

The reasons for dropping this practice seems mostly related to the pain the name of the President-elect causes to those who are terrified of his statements and his abusive actions towards women especially. It is argued that church must be a safe space for those who are victims of abuse and those who may be affected by his proposed policies. Those w
ho advocate for no naming say it is an ethical issue and that these are times that demand a different response.

My response to this is that the Bible is very clear that we are to pray for those in authority and for our enemies and those who persecute us. Jesus, Paul, Peter all speak of this. It is hard for me to do but it is the practice I want to foster in myself. Naming is a part of that for me. The power of naming is noted through out the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. By saying the name I take my power back.

My non-churchgoing brother noted that in the Harry Potter novels "most characters in the novels refer to Voldemort as "You-Know-Who" or "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named" rather than say his name aloud." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Voldemort). Only a few actually say the name but Dumbledore says that the name has no power and it is only their own fears.  However, we find out in the last book that Voldemort can track mentions of his names and uses that to target his enemies, so saying his name basically sends up a signal flare once he has returned to power.  Which might be a part of the pain and fear that saying the President-elect’s name evokes.


My spiritual director modeled praying for her abuser - and I saw that it changed her. Her prayers did not change the other person and did not say what happened was in any way anything but evil. I decided to try it and I found a different sort of peace. Do I still have anger about what happened? Yes, but I am not holding the poison of that anger and bitterness inside. I wrestled with saying Donald in the prayers of the people when it was my turn to pray (I am not priest in charge) - could I do it without being sick? I do it because it is my practice and it is a decision that our church made after the election.

Also there are people in our congregation who choked on praying for "Barack" by name and who voted for the president-elect. They would find it more than odd if we stopped our practice of naming now. They already feel in the minority in the Episcopal Church but soldier on in the community.

I wonder about the idea of church as safe space and think that sets us up for failure. I have not found it to be safe all the time. Many Bible passages are terrifying: Lot offering his daughters to the crowd to be raped. Eli's sons use their position to take advantage of womenJephthah'daughter is sacrificed because of a rash promise. The crucifixion.

From Annie Dillard:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.” 

Also I wonder about only praying by name for those who we think are "good people" which seems to come out in these discussions. That seems to set up a dynamic where we use prayer as a form of approval or disapproval. 

The discussion has made me think about what I believe about prayer and what I think we are doing when we pray. But in the end for me it comes down to following Jesus in his way and prayer is something he talks about more than anything else. A few passages that I take seriously:

Matthew 5:43-45 "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Luke 6:27-28 "But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." 

Romans 12:19-20 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."

1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 

Then of course there is this from Fiddler on the Roof on blessing the Tsar.

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This essay first appeared at Episcopal Café